Hello, my name is Magda from Poland. I am ESC volunteer in Pi Youth Association since October 2020. Turkey, colourful orient located just next to Europe. The place where the sun is always shining bright, where in the shadow of palms you can charge energy for the rest of the year, and where in evening you can enjoy the spectacle of spinning dervish and belly dance of a beautiful girl with dark, mysterious eyes. Both at the time, or one on your left, second on your right.
This is how Turkey looks in the imagination of millions of tourists coming each year to the holiday resorts located mostly on the southern part of Turkish coast. When they come back to their countries they spread fabulous stories about the beauty and charm of Turkey, but at the same time, they often still think that Turkish people speak Arabic language.
Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing bad in spending time relaxing by the sea! But Turkey offers much more. And the longer I’m here, the more I am impressed by the diversity and richness of Turkish culture, which seems to surprise me even more day by day.
It was 2013, when I first came to Turkey. It was not only the first non-European country I have visited, but also the first long stay in a foreign country just by myself. I landed in Alanya, working in one of those all-inclusive hotels 16 hours a day. But, despite tiredness, Turkey put a spell on me, made me always want to come back to see more. Everything was so different to what I saw until that time, but I didn’t feel strange, I felt rather amazed by the number of new things I can see and experienced here. Next year, I managed a month of pure travelling around west Turkey, from Edirne, through Çanakkale, İzmir, Fethiye until Alanya, almost every day staying at a different place, from big cities to small villages. Choosing as a transportation means hitchhiking, made my journey full of interesting stories taken just from the normal, real life in Turkey. I heard good and bad things, grumbles and praises, sad stories and happy stories. But what’s most important- I got closer Turkish culture and society. And, yet- my interest has not waned.
After that time I had the opportunity to travel around many countries and what I quickly realised, travelling in the fast way is not for me. Seeing tourist attractions, most common historical spots, don’t really help me to understand the local culture. I was always feeling that I am just inside of the picture I googled long time ago. But how are the people standing next to me in the metro? Where do they head, what do they dream about? Do we have the same worries? Can we really get to know any culture without trying to ask these questions?
So I came to Turkey one more time. This time for longer. It has already been more than 4 months since I started to work as a volunteer in Pi Gençlik Derneği in Izmir. I moved to the city I have been curious about from the time I visited it for the first time, almost 7 years ago. I remember that I took a ferry ride to the other part of the Izmir, but I would never guess that this ferry would drive me to the place I can call home always after work in the office. Every week I am passing quickly places, which back then, I was photographing trying to save memories. Today, I am rather observing people. I am looking for differences between local culture and Polish, but… I don’t see much. Only sometimes, when I talk with my Polish friends, I remember that, yes, some things are different. I use “kolonya” hundreds of times a day, I am complaining if in my order there is no wet “mendil”, I automatically put off my shoes without using hands while I am entering a house, I drink black tea during breakfast, and Turkish coffee in the evening, I buy a “simit” from the street seller, when I run for my ferry to Pasaport, I can’t imagine any shopping without buying a lemon and yogurt. I also cross a street full of speeding cars without even thinking about it. I could say here probably many more things, which i haven’t been doing in Poland, and which are completely normal for me now. When I walk along a street, I don’t feel different or strange. I feel comfortable. My headphones usually play Turkish music and Spotify told me that the most listened singer in this year was Sezen Aksu. I believe also that until I don’t start to speak, nobody can understand that I am a foreigner. I guess this is what is called “totally immersion”.
Am I satisfied? Did I find answers for all my questions? Of course, no. I have them only more in my head. I don’t believe also I can ever fully understand all what is happening around me. I can only try to listen, observe and experience culture which is part of my life now. Staying longer in some place, makes us not only more familiar to the local culture- but you also become one part of it. So you are listening to those fabulous stories about oriental colourful Turkey, and you don’t see it anymore. You see a normal world, with better weather, great and rich cuisine full of tasty vegetables and herbs, which you can buy even in an late night hours from a grocery just behind the corner, you feel a smell of fresh fishes on one side of the street, and bread on the other one, you hear muezzin calling to prayers and a seller of “kebap” calling to choose his place, you see wonderful flowers twining around buildings, cute cats sleeping and walking all around, people who never forget to feed them and bring a blanket when it is cold outside, you see all green spaces occupied by laughing people, drinking and eating slowly, enjoying their free time with a friends… And you want to join them and stay. As much as I do.